Will consumers, many of whom have been staying in and wearing sweatpants during the pandemic, be in the mood for a special collection of dresses?

Target will soon find out.

The Minneapolis-based retailer, which has built its cheap-chic reputation from its highly anticipated designer partnerships, will launch a new one in a few weeks. Its next collection is all about dresses with three female-founded brands — LoveShackFancy, Cushnie and Lisa Marie Fernandez — offering a variety of colors, prints and silhouettes to appeal to a diverse range of tastes.

Planning for it started a year ago, long before the pandemic was on the horizon. Given the current circumstances, Target has made a number of adjustments to the rollout.

“We fully acknowledge that not everybody is going to be in the same place,” said Jill Sando, Target’s co-chief merchandising officer. “But we want to be able to provide some joy to those guests that are looking for it during this time, and to do it in a way that’s empathetic and safe.”

For starters, Target delayed the launch by two months. Also, to discourage the frenzy in stores that can accompany the first-day launches of its limited-time collaborations, it is putting the collection for sale online a full week before it hits stores.

And, during a time of physical distancing, Target has pulled images from its marketing that show models touching or in close proximity to one another.

Originally set to be announced in March and launched in April, executives decided to postpone the collection as the coronavirus began to sweep across the country. At that time, Target’s stores were moving into crisis mode with stepped-up cleaning procedures and social-distancing measures with consumers flocking to stores for eggs, toilet paper and puzzles as they hunkered down at home.

Executives considered many options, including scrapping the dress collection altogether, even though it was too late to cancel orders.

“Everything was on the table,” Sando said.

They decided on a June rollout, encouraging people to shop the collection online, was the best course of action.

“Our guests look forward to these collaborations, so we do think there are going to be people who look forward to this,” she added.

The collection is Target’s first collaboration built around a single wardrobe item and includes more than 70 dresses between $40 and $60. It also includes a range of aesthetics including form-fitting designs with bright colors, vintage-inspired florals, and polka dots and gingham.

It will launch online on June 6 and hit stores on June 15. Target also shifted more of the inventory online and reduced the number of stores that will carry it to 700 instead of 800. Target has nearly 1,900 stores.

The marketing campaign will be all digital, too, after having ditched plans for billboards in Los Angeles and New York City.

Apparel has been a tough sell during the pandemic as many clothing stores have temporarily shuttered and many people are working from home or have lost jobs.

Target said last month that its apparel sales had declined as much as 40% in April. It will report its full quarterly results on Wednesday.

As consumer demand for apparel has dramatically shifted, Target has been hustling to adjust its inventory with categories such as athleisure and sleepwear being in higher demand compared to outfits for the office.

Amid that backdrop, Target’s dresses collection is a bit of a gamble, said Carol Spieckerman, a retail consultant.

“Dresses would seem to be a little risky as people are working from home and not necessarily refreshing their wardrobes,” she said.

But she added that there is a devoted dress customer who likes to wear dresses for comfort for whom this assortment could be appealing.

“And by the time it launches, customers could be in the mood for a refresh for a few new items that make you feel pretty and refresh your look even if it’s for Zoom meetings,” she said.


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